The Gift of a High Priest
What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?
- That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.”
- Hebrews 4:14-16: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.1
Have you ever received a gift you weren’t sure what it was? Or what it was supposed to do? I remember distinctly receiving such a Christmas gift. I wasn’t sure whether it was a gag gift or something else. I wanted to say, “Thanks, but what am I supposed to do with it?” In the end, the gift was quietly stored in a box somewhere deep in my basement.
Then again there have been times when I’ve received an equally puzzling gift only to find out later that this gift was far more beneficial than I had originally understood. The gift has become a regular, welcome feature of my life.
One of the great gifts that Christians celebrate at Christmastime is the gift of a high priest. To modern ears, receiving a high priest for Christmas sounds like it might be in the former category. A high priest? What am I supposed to do with that? But when we stop to consider what the priestly implications of Jesus’ ministry for us are we realize that a high priest is a far more beneficial gift than we first imagined.
For you see, the Bible makes a big deal about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, in part, because it meant that the Son of God was taking on our humanity that he might be our high priest (Hebrew 4-7). The uncompromising nature of God’s holiness means that God will not tolerate sin—any sin—in his presence; and so, unless something is done to remove the obstacle of our sinful condition, we will be forever cut off from the one true source of joy in the universe. In the Old Testament, the high priest was a big deal precisely because he was the person appointed by God to deal with the sins of his people so that they might draw near to Him.
And so, from the time of Moses through to the New Testament, high priests were appointed from among the people to be the go-betweens. They were ‘of the people’ so that they might represent them when offering the payment for sin, yet they were distinct from the people in that they were holy, set apart for this special calling.
The priests under the Old Testament, however, had a sin and death problem (Heb. 7:23-28). They were guilty of sin themselves and had a consistent habit of dying. But when Jesus comes—without any hint or tinge of sin—he was able to offer up the final payment for sin (himself) while also conquering death in his resurrection.
Jesus was given as a high priest for his people to represent us before his Father, to deal with our sin, and ultimately, to lead us into God’s presence. It is the author of Hebrews who says that since we have Jesus as our high priest we can draw near to God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4:16; 7:25)! Because Jesus, as our holy representative, deals fully with our sin, we can approach God to find mercy and help in time of need! Because of Jesus, our great high priest, we can open our arms wide and receive boundless mercy and grace to help us walk by faith today, even in a world of trouble.
In the birth of Jesus, we have been given a high priest. In the provision of a high priest, born in Bethlehem long ago, God has drawn near to us so that we might draw near to him. This is at the heart of the Christmas message. It’s a gift worth celebrating.
- The OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries sent out a video of the terrific work that one of our missionaries is doing in Ukraine. We watched the five-minute video with our kids at the dinner table so that they could see what God is doing in the church around the world and to talk about how we could pray for the church in Ukraine. You can watch the video here.
- If you’re looking for a way to start a conversation about Christ with someone this Christmastime, I’d recommend listening to and then sharing Simon Manchester’s sermon, “God’s Idea for Christmas.” It’s only twenty-minutes and he does a good job of explaining the significance of Christmas in a clear, understandable way.
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